An Interview with … Rod Brown

Looking forward to Australia’s Thoroughbreds reprising the arena triumphs of the past. THOROUGHBRED INSIGHTS with Suzy Jarratt.

“The Thoroughbred Sport Horse Association is a great idea,” enthused 70-year-old Rod from his property in Kulnura on the NSW Central Coast. “As you know my generation grew up with Thoroughbreds. Except, perhaps, for an occasional cross-bred horse, they were all we had.

“I had three outstanding ones which I kept because, as youngsters, they were too difficult to sell to people!

The first was Slinky who went to the Seoul Olympics. George Morris bought her for a client – a magnificent mare. She went to the States and later had foals in Europe.

The second was Spirit (racing name “Test Check”), who belonged to Jo and Peter Anderson in South Australia. We ended up having a half share in him. He became an Australian champion; grey and an absolute stunner. He should have gone overseas but, for one reason or another, we didn’t get there. An outstanding jumper.

Rod Brown & “Mr. Burns” World Cup Grand Prix

The third was Mr Burns owned by the Chapmans. Greg, who’d often transport horses to the abattoir in Riverstone, asked the proprietor, Phillip Burns, to let him know if ever a likely sort arrived. One day he got the call. The horse was poor but looked to be a good type. Greg and Cathy bought him for $350.

Roy Davis did a bit of work with him and then they asked if I’d take him on.Rod Brown & “Mr.Burns” – World Cup Grand Prix

“He was difficult,” said Rod. “If I touched the right rein he’d spin left. That’s how he’d have got the jockeys off which was probably why he was at the knackery!”

In another life, at the track, the gelding – by Favoured Bay out of Big Giggle, a King of Babylon mare, a vital aspect in his attraction to the Chapmans –  was known as Regency Rake. He had only 12 starts, basically around the Riverina, for a Griffith maiden success and $3170 in prizemoney.’  The Sydney Morning Herald – April 30 2004

Rod persisted and got him up to Grand Prix level but didn’t have time to go on the show circuit. As he was busy with his business and in his role as national coach, Jamie Coman rode Mr Burns before he took over as national coach.

The ride then went to Andrew Inglis and the combination competed in Europe aiming for the 2004 Olympics. They won a GP in France but didn’t make it to Athens.

Upon returning home the horse became sick with pneumonia.

He recovered and after a while Rod began riding him again.

“He went from strength to strength,” recalled Rod, who in 2006 won five of the six selection classes for the World Equestrian Games, including the Australian Championships at Sale, and together they went to the WEG at Aachen.

“He became a most beautiful horse to ride.”

Mr Burns was sold to an American woman in Hong Kong.  He became unwell and his final years were spent with a friend of Rod’s who was based in Germany.

“Mr Burns was the easiest horse I’ve ever had to jump.”

Back in the day what Thoroughbred lines did showjumpers look for?

“There was King of Babylon and, earlier than that, Blue Peter (Slinky’s dam was from that fabulous jumping line). And Mikado, who Spirit was by, he also had Blue Peter in him.”

In the late nineties there was a bunch of imported warmbloods that were purpose bred for sport horses.  The breed was all the fashion in Europe and America – so we followed suit.

We Australian riders didn’t like the very early imports which were big and heavy but then came more athletic types.”

And is there any difference in training the two different breeds?

“My methods remain much the same with both.  A lot of people say you can’t use too much leg on a Thoroughbred – that’s wrong because the TB relaxes to your leg.  My main tip when getting a Thoroughbred off the track is to buy a really great type.  I look for a tall, off the ground, scopey and rangy horse who’s a big mover.  I also used to look for the bloodlines known to produce jumpers.  We’d work them for a couple of weeks to make sure they were obedient – then free jump and jump them under saddle. That way we knew relatively quickly what we had.

An especially good thing about Thoroughbreds is that much of the work has been done.  Even if they only got to pre-training or trials they all know how to go forward.

We’ve one Thoroughbred in our competition team at the moment – a nice 16.3hh bay gelding.  His name is I’ve Got It who, incidentally, goes back to Sadler’s Wells and Century.  Rod McQueen is currently competing him in the metre classes.”